‘This is my life’: Why a UFC fighter flew 22 hours for a fight that never happened


Marvin Vettori is an up-and-coming UFC middleweight from Italy. He was scheduled to face Darren Stewart at UFC Fight Night: Woodley vs. Edwards on Saturday in London.

Last Friday night, Vettori flew from Los Angeles — he trains at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, California — to London, only to find out hours later that the fight card would be moved to the United States due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Vettori flew back to LA on Sunday with the hopes of still competing. The 26-year-old was in the air for 22 hours during a 48-hour span, all for a fight that’s been indefinitely postponed.

Vettori, who has just one loss in his last five fights, explains in his own words why he went through such incredible lengths to compete and what his immediate future looks like with his family still in Italy, one of the countries most affected by COVID-19.

Content has been edited for length and clarity.

I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport last Friday afternoon with one focus and one focus alone: Fighting Darren Stewart at UFC London.

After that, I had no plan. I didn’t book a return flight to California. I wasn’t sure if I could return to Italy, my home country, because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus. The fight with Stewart was the only thing on my mind.

People reading this will think, ‘Oh, this guy is crazy, he’s just thinking about his fight.’ I mean, yes. This is my life. You don’t get it. It’s not like other sports. I’m putting everything on the line for every fight I do. You’re investing a lot. We really put in a lot — money, time, everything. We put everything aside just for that one moment. I also wanted my fight to be a symbol of resilience for everybody struggling with the virus situation in Italy, which has been one of the hardest countries hit.

So, when I boarded the plane that night, for me it was the fight and nothing else after it. I had no idea at the time that the UFC would move the event from London to the United States and then postpone it altogether. I had no idea that I would fly 11 hours to London and then another 11 hours back to LA for no reason. I don’t care, though. I would do it again.

I landed in London last Saturday afternoon, around 1 p.m. local time. I arrived there with my team of fellow Italians, coaches and training partners. It took almost 90 minutes to get from Heathrow to the hotel and we didn’t get settled until almost 4 p.m. When we finally got there, I had a bite to eat — I had not eaten anything since I was in California — and then looked for a gym to train at. We didn’t end up finding one, so I got a workout in at the hotel gym and went to bed not too long after that. It was a long day.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sleep too long. My nutritionist, Matteo Capodaglio, woke me up at 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning with terrible news. The card in London had to be moved to the United States due to travel restrictions.

I was like, f— man. It’s messed up. I was super mad. I didn’t know how to act. At first I was mad at Matteo, because he woke me up in the middle of the night. Then everybody was kind of like freaking out — we have to go back or otherwise how are we gonna go back to the U.S. with the travel ban? I said, we’re all Italian anyway, we could always go back to Italy if we had to.

But I was still determined to fight. My manager Ali Abdelaziz told me the UFC still wanted me to compete on the March 21 card. So, they were able to book me on a flight back to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. At 1 p.m. — just 24 hours after I landed — I was back on a plane going in the opposite direction, back where I started.

I spent about 22 total hours in the air in two days. It was a little bit miserable, I won’t lie. And all in economy class. But I did it, because my only goal was to still fight, even if it wasn’t going to be Stewart, who wouldn’t be able to make it to the U.S.

The more I do this, the more I realize I’m a different breed. I can take more than most other people can. It is crazy in a sense. The more I go, the stronger I get and I see I’m unstoppable on this path.

I landed back at LAX around 6 p.m. local time Sunday night and headed back to my apartment in Huntington Beach. If there was going to be a fight card in six days, I was going to be on it.

On Monday afternoon, I was working on getting my weight down, preparing to fight that coming Saturday. After a session of hard sprints, I picked up my phone and saw a missed call from Ali. Then I opened up Instagram. UFC president Dana White had announced that the next three UFC events were postponed, including the one I was supposed to fight on. I couldn’t believe it. I was devastated.

It’s like every time during this process after I smash a cardio session with sprints, I find out bad news. Like I’m proud of what I just did, because I know I pushed hard and I got to my limit and stuff. I come out and some bulls— news just hits me. And I’m like, f—.

I spoke to Ali and found out what my options were. The UFC was putting some displaced fighters from UFC London on the Cage Warriors show in England. Stewart, the man I was supposed to fight, would be competing on the card. We told the UFC I was willing to fly all the way back to London to fight him on that card. I didn’t care that I had made that trip twice already over the last 72 hours. They told me it was too late.

I still wish I could have fought, but I don’t regret at all the lengths I took to get to the fight. I did everything in my power and I know that. I have accepted it now. Even if you would have a reason to, you can’t think of what it could have been, or about everything you’ve done for nothing. It will hit you at some points. It will feel s—-y – it does, still. But there is worse s— that happens.

There are some worse things going on now with the coronavirus. I went to the supermarket Monday and the shelves were all clear. Luckily, I don’t need much, and I have plenty of toilet paper, which seems to be in short supply. I have enough money saved to last me a few months — every fighter should have that.

I am most worried about what’s going on in Italy. I plan on staying in California and being ready to fight again as soon as possible. Hopefully everybody stays good back home — my close friends and family — where I don’t have to go back. For those reasons, I’m really worried about that. If something goes wrong, I’ll go back right away and try to help and do what is in my power to do something.

But if not, I’ll stay here in Huntington Beach and continue to train. If I have to just run on the street with gyms closing, I’ll do that. We still haven’t talked about compensation with the UFC for the fight that didn’t happen, but I’m sure they will take care of me.

I’m on a mission, man. I’m seeing these guys fighting for the middleweight title (Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero) and putting up s— shows. I know I can beat all those guys and I’m not even top 15 yet and I’ve gotta go through all those guys on the rankings. If I don’t fight, how can I do that? I need to fight. I want to fight. I’m gonna stay ready.

Of course, money is important. Money will come. But I’m on the path to be the No. 1 in the world. To prove it. Because I know already I am. I’m on a mission. That’s it. And all of this is delaying my mission. That’s how I see it.

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